INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Butler defended its home court by guarding the paint on defense and attacking it on offense. That strategy allowed the Bulldogs to beat Northwestern 65-56 on Saturday.
Butler justified its No. 23 ranking and proved it could be physical. The Bulldogs outscored the Wildcats 22-6 in the paint by halftime and 38-20 at the end of Saturday’s game.
Butler’s physical approach on offense put Northwestern in foul trouble, sending the Bulldogs to the line for 28 free throw attempts. Butler made 16 of 28, outscoring the Wildcats from the line 16 to 6. That wasn’t Butler interim head coach Chris Holtmann’s game plan.
“We always talk about a certain number of paint touches that we want to get in games,” Holtmann said. “We did feel like if we could move them we could drive them, but I think our guys just kind of took what was there. That’s just kind of how the game went.”
Butler accompanied their intense interior play on offense with a strong effort on defense. The Bulldogs finished with six blocks, forcing the Wildcats to shoot more from the perimeter. Northwestern was 6 of 18 on 3-pointers, and trailed the entire game.
The Bulldogs are more comfortable scoring from the perimeter, but Northwestern’s defense gave Butler’s Roosevelt Jones, who scored 12 points, options on offense. Butler was only 1 of 5 on 3-pointers. Kellen Dunham had 19 points for the Bulldogs.
“We’re trying to beat (Alex) Olah off of ball screens. If I could drive it, I would drive it. If I could kick it to Kellen, I would kick it to Kellen,” Jones said. “I was just taking what they were giving me.”
Butler held Northwestern’s 7-foot center Alex Olah to just 11 points and four total rebounds. Despite an inability to impact the game in the paint offensively and shoot effectively from the perimeter, the Wildcats late surge kept them close.
“Today for us was a good step in the right direction, although we were disappointed in the end result. We’re on a road game and we were in a tough environment,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I thought they beat us off the dribble, especially Jones and (Alex) Barlow, those guys were in our paint a lot. When you lose by 18 in the paint, that’s going to be tough to overcome.”
Butler held a six point lead with under four minutes left when Nathan Taphorn’s 3-pointer pulled Northwestern within one possession. But the Bulldogs finished the way they started and capped off a 5-0 run with Alex Barlow’s steal leading to a fast-break layup. That put them ahead by eight with two minutes to play and forced the Wildcats to call a timeout.
Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh shot an off-balance 3-pointer with thirty seconds left that bounced off the back iron. Vic Law finished with 10 and McIntosh finished with 12 points for the Wildcats.
“We went into this game having a really good understanding of what it was going to be like,” Holtmann said. “(This game) was going to be who could grind out a win. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys’ grittiness today.”
Butler: Butler has been ranked in the Top 25 in seven of the past nine seasons . Saturday was Butler’s 17th straight non-conference win at home.
Northwestern: The Wildcats have not allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points in a game since Feb. 19 of last season . Alex Olah has three double-doubles this season.
Butler hosts Kennesaw State Monday
Northwestern hosts Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 14